G’day, Badger readers! Finally, the new season gets underway and not a moment too soon, I say. The new look F1 might have fancy new graphics, logos, grid kids and theme tunes, but one beloved feature remains – Badger’s Top Dog award! Our own Driver of the Day type feature, only cleverer.

Our favourite F1 hounds have been released and I’m straining at the leash to reveal my first ‘Best in Show ‘of 2018. So who was a whizz in Oz? Which dynamic dingo dazzled Down Under? It’s time to press the party button for…

DANIEL RICCIARDO

Image: Octane Photography

Not an easy pick this one, but everyone’s favourite Honey Badger just edges it.

First of all, he pulled off one of the few genuine overtakes of the entire race. I think I counted three in total. Three. Sadly, Mel-bore (sorry, Ed) is one of those circuits which is woefully devoid of passing opportunities. I keep myself amused during these long, processional spells by counting the different ways commentators attempt to spin this. Dirty air, turbulent air, bumpy air – pain in the airs more like!

Anyway, back to Daniel. His sole overtake was a corker, blitzing past the Renault of Nico Hulkenberg on lap 5. Nico fought back immediately, but Dan was having none of it, defending hard to hang onto the position and giving his home fans reasons to cheer from the packed grandstands of Albert Park.

WHEEL HAAS COME OFF THE WAGON

Having dispensed with the Hulk, Ricciardo hunted down the Haas boys up ahead, no doubt spurred on by the bitter disappointment of his rather harsh grid penalty from qualifying. Which was nothing compared to the heartbreak of the Haas team after a bizarre pit stop error left both cars with loose wheels and a double driver retirement. Such a shame as Magnussen was an early Top Dog contender – here’s hoping he gets another chance.

RELENTLESS RICCIARDO

The second Haas incident brought out the Virtual Safety Car and “our Dan” (as our antipodean readers would say) was one of several beneficiaries to grab a cheeky pit stop. Now in 4th place, he fancied his chances of wrestling that final podium place away from Kimi Raikkonen (dirty air permitting, natch).

Ricciardo set to it, spending the rest of the race on Kimi’s gearbox, sneaking a look every chance he got. His engineer’s radio message asking if he wanted to attack every lap or hang back and choose his moment received a classic Daniel response: “I don’t wanna let him breathe.” Attaboy, Daniel! He kept the pressure on until the bitter end and bagged the fastest lap of the race in pursuit of that elusive home podium. Without that pesky penalty, he might have made it too.

Well done, Danny Ric on being our first Top Dog of the year. Shoeys all round. Bonza!

DEPUTY DOG

Fernando Alonso was nip and tuck for Top Dog this week. It was a treat to see him in contention with the Renaults and Red Bulls to finish a well-deserved 5th. His radio plea for his engineer to drum up more enthusiasm and ‘give me some energy’ shows that Fernando truly believes this is the year McLaren can fight with the big boys and be regular podium contenders.

A final special mention goes to Romain Grosjean for taking the time to console his distraught Haas mechanics after their catastrophic pit stop blunders. It’s always nice to see the human side of the sport.

So, race one was no ripsnorter, but there are 20 more rounds to go. Badger GP will be with you for every build-up, qualifying session and race. Join us next time as the drivers do battle in Bahrain. Fingers crossed for an overtaking bonanza.

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